local government

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Michigan’s second-largest city will decide whether to establish term limits for the mayor and city commission next Tuesday.

The proposed change to the city’s charter would limit commissioners and mayors to eight years in office. Commissioners would be able to serve for eight years if elected mayor.

Opponents of term limits say there’s no need for them because voters can kick people out of office by not re-electing them.

More Michigan jurisdictions report that they are better able to meet their fiscal needs this year compared to the previous year.
Michigan Public Policy Survey

The latest Michigan Public Policy Survey shows that for the first time since 2009, more Michigan communities say they are better able to meet their fiscal needs than those who say they are less able to do so.

For six years, a University of Michigan team from the Ford School's Center for Local, State and Public Policy has been doing regular "temperature" checks with elected and appointed leaders of more than 1,800 local governments around Michigan.

Tom Ivacko is with the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School. He says the data indicate an important development as the state recovers from the Great Recession.

User: Takver / Flickr

Say the words "climate change," and just watch the battle lines form.

On one side, we have those – including the scientific community – who say it is not only coming, it is here and we're going to be challenged by extreme weather as a consequence.

On the other side, we have those who doubt the grim warnings of climate scientists. They believe warming is just a part of nature's cycle.

TIF mismanagement can lead to blight.
Flickr.com

 

Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a flexible tool for downtown development authority boards aiming to encourage private investment and increase the taxable value of their municipality.

TIFs enable portions of a city’s regular property tax to be used for economic development, without a vote from taxpayers. There are eight types of authorities in Michigan that can engage in this type of financing.

David Bieri is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.

Bieri explains the good and bad uses of TIFs. In the early 2000s, DDAs from Kalamazoo to Detroit addressed blight through brownfield remitigation. On the other hand, Bieri cites Bloomfield Park, the unfinished mini-city in Bloomfield Hills, as an example of TIFs gone bad: Blight was created rather than mitigated. 

Chelsea Oakes / Creative Commons

Most state leaders agree that Michigan needs to fix its roads. But they’re still struggling with how to do that.

In the meantime, local governments are taking matters into their own hands.

david_shane / Flickr

It was certainly a fiery, emotional scene at the State Capitol a year ago this month.

That's when the lame-duck Legislature and Governor Snyder rammed through the right-to-work law, and Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state.

The laws took effect in March, making it illegal to force workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

So what do our local government leaders think about right to work?

Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy / UM's Ford School of Public Policy

Michigan's cities, towns, and villages are seeing an overall improvement in their ability to meet their financial needs, but hundreds continue to struggle. That's according to an annual report by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy.

The report finds that smaller municipalities are having a tougher time than those with populations of more than 30,000. And municipalities in central Michigan and the southern lower Peninsula have been particularly hard hit.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Legislators working to prevent animal abuse in Michigan

A bid to make Michigan the first state with an animal abuser registry has been dropped by lawmakers over concerns about cost and other issues. Instead, the state could soon require that criminal background checks be done on every would-be pet adopter at Michigan animal shelters. The $10 fee for each check could be waived for shelters. Cracking down on animal abuse has broad support, though some dog breeders question doing tens of thousands of background checks to flag a small number of abusers.

Michigan left turn could enter other states

The median U-turn is common on Michigan roadways; they allow drivers to avoid accident-generating left turns at intersections. But Wayne State University engineers say they aren't common in other states yet, in part because the design isn't included in standard manuals and software used by highway designers. The university received a $78,000 grant from Scientific Applications with which they plan to develop equations, text and software to include the Michigan left turn in the Highway Capacity Manual.

Looking forward to local primaries tomorrow

Local primaries will be taking place across Michigan tomorrow. The most interesting might be the Detroit mayoral primary. There are 14 names on the ballot, but the race is widely seen as a duel between former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. But Duggan isn't even on the ballot, he's running a write-in campaign. Only the top two candidates will advance to the November general election.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

It’s a question many in local governments across the state have been asking themselves lately.

There are a couple ways Detroit’s bankruptcy could have a bad influence on other local governments.

The simple way: not so good national media attention

The simplest way is all that bad press the nation’s biggest municipal bankruptcy will bring. But Detroit’s finances have been screwed up for decades. That’s not news. Economists that track indicators in West Michigan say it won’t help, but they do not expect this to be a big factor.

The more important way Detroit’s bankruptcy could affect small governments is much more complicated.

The complicated way: “unprecedented” threats to municipal bonds

First, you’ve got to understand these bonds are really important to local governments.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Medical marijuana dispensaries could be revived in Michigan

A state House panel is soon likely to take up a bill that would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan. Earlier this year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled to stop most marijuana dispensaries; but now state lawmakers say they’re close to a deal on legislation that would allow and regulate the facilities.

Republican representative Mike Callton told Michigan Public Radio’s Jake Neher, “without the dispensaries, patients will have very limited access to medical marijuana.”

Free trade with E.U. could benefit Michigan manufacturing

Michigan businesses will be closely watching free trade talks starting today between the United States and the European Union. The proposed trade deal would open markets between the U.S. and the 28 E.U. countries. Rich Studley is the president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Studley told Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody, "an E.U. free trade deal would primarily benefit Michigan’s manufacturing industry."

Last chance to register for 2013 local elections

Today is the deadline to register to vote for the 56 local elections in Michigan this summer. Elections range from local primaries to school boards to city council votes. The Michigan Secretary of State is urging Michiganders to get out to vote in their local elections. Residents can go to their county or local clerk's office or a Secretary of State office to register.

A state-appointed review team found the small city of Hamtramck is once again in a state of financial emergency. Will the city succumb to state control again?

And nearby in Detroit, one prominent observer has growing doubts about the effectiveness of the city's emergency manager.

And, a new film documentary explores the different ways Michigan families have transformed deep loss into opportunities to grow.

Also, Tom Ivacko joined us to discuss how local leaders would like citizen to get involved with government.

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How deeply should citizens be involved in governing our counties, cities, townships or villages?

Put another way, how deeply do our local leaders want us to be involved?

That's the question the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan put to more than 1,300 local government officials from all over Michigan.

You can read more about this survey here.

Tom Ivacko from the Center joined us today with the verdict.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Hundreds of Michigan cities are not saving enough to cover their future retiree health care costs.

A new report says more than 300 Michigan municipalities have in excess of $13 billion in unfunded liabilities for health care costs of retired public employees.

Michigan State University researchers found only half of the municipalities are prefunding retiree health care. The rest are setting aside no money despite longer lifespans and rapidly rising health costs.

While the collective bill of funding those benefits is $12.7 billion, the bulk of it, almost $11 billion, is attributable to local governments in a 10-county region of Southeast Michigan including Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. The city of Detroit alone will owe $5 billion in retiree health care costs.

But MSU professor Eric Scorsone says cities like Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Saginaw also face difficult choices.

“That’s already happening today….these cities…are paying millions of dollars in retiree premiums so it’s already having an effect and it will have an even bigger effect in the future,” says Scorsone.

Scorsone says the new national health care law may help some.   But tax increases, budget cuts or broken promises to retirees are inevitable, unless the state takes action.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new poll shows local government leaders are concerned about proposals to repeal or greatly change Michigan’s personal property tax.

Michigan’s personal property tax focuses on assets like furniture, equipment, computers and other temporary investments.

Businesses have complained for years about the personal property tax.  Critics complain the tax is an obstacle to reinvestment and attracting new investment to Michigan

But the tax generates hundreds of millions of dollars for local governments.

Stateside: Government and unions learn how to better communicate

Oct 25, 2012
Ray Holman of UAW Local 6000 says the ruling is a victory for state employees.
UAW

Believe it or not, many of Michigan’s local leaders are satisfied with union negotiations.

According to Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager of Ford School’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, the relationship between jurisdiction and its employees is quite positive.

Ivacko oversees the Michigan Public Policy Survey program. He spoke today with Cyndy about these relationships.

Getting along with your neighbors isn’t always easy. So Governor Rick Snyder came up with a pretty simple plan to get townships, counties and cities to find new ways to work together; give them some kind of incentive, specifically, money.

Michigan Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says these Competitive Grant Assistance Grants are incentives to get neighboring cities, townships and counties to work together in new ways.

New House bill would limit cost of FOIA requests

Sep 25, 2012

Some of Michigan’s city and township officials are worried about a bill that would limit how much they could charge for public information requests. The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings Tuesday on measures to make it easier and cheaper to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

Bill Anderson of the Michigan Townships Association said local governments are already losing money processing requests.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two cities from opposite sides of the state are working together to come up with better ways to manage local governments.

Livonia and Grand Rapids are teaming up to find solutions to all kinds of common city management problems; like, what's the best practice for hiring city workers? What about for borrowing money? What’s the best accounting software for the price?

“In essence it could be anything necessary to run local government and best practices that we could easily share,” said Greg Sundstrom, Grand Rapids’ city manager.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week there will be an important hearing for those hoping to merge three West Michigan communities. A group of citizens is asking the state to allow the cities of Saugatuck, Douglas and Saugatuck Township to merge into one city. 

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Kent County is saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on supplies thanks to a customized online auction. The program is like the online auction site eBay in reverse.

When Kent County needs office supplies, like printer paper, it opens an auction online. It lists a maximum price it’s willing to pay based on previous bills. Vendors offer to sell the county printer paper at that price or lower.

Sean Marshall / Creative Commons

265 Kalamazoo City employees are eligible for the early retirement incentive. According to the city’s Human Resources Director Jerome Post, 191 of them have already signed up. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised at the number of people,” Post said the number is higher than he expected.

 “It’s been a little bit anxiety ridden for us but at the same time we’ve been very excited about the opportunity this presents for us to restructure virtually every department in the city,” Post said.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

UM Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

56 percent of local officials in jurisdictions that have unions believe the unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health, according to a survey released by the University of Michigan (43% reported "somewhat of a liability," and 13% reported "a significant liability").

The survey was conducted the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy from April 18 to June 10, 2011.

The Center says only 27 percent of Michigan's local governments have unions, but the vast majority of the state's population (98 percent) live in areas where their local governments have unionized employees.

The perception that these unions hurt a government's bottom line doesn't necessarily fall along party lines, according to the report:

Compared to Republican and Independent local leaders, Democratic officials are somewhat more positive about the fiscal impact of employee unions. But a surprisingly high 48 percent of the Democrats say unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health.

Thomas Ivacko told the Associated Press:

"It's a complex picture coming out from the local level," center administrator Thomas Ivacko told the AP. "Local leaders tend to say that having a union is hurting their fiscal health. . . . (But) the picture isn't all negative."

Despite the bad perception on overall fiscal health, the report says the respondents rated their relationship with the unions as generally positive:

60 percent of the local officials say the relationship between their localities and employee unions has been either good or excellent over the past 12 months, according to the statewide poll. Only 5 percent say the relationship was poor.

As you may know by now, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill  yesterday limiting how much local governments and schools can spend to provide health care for their employees.

The new law, which Governor Snyder is expected to sign, says local governments can contribute a maximum of fifty-five hundred dollars an employee, or fifteen thousand dollars a family.

Their only other option is to split health coverage cost with the employees, as long as the workers pay at least twenty percent.

Local governments can opt out of these requirements, but it won’t be easy. They’d have to do so by a two-thirds vote of their council or school board, and take a new vote every year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The next two or three years “are going to be rough” for local governments in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder told a group of city managers and county executives he’s sensitive to that.

The main cause of budget problems for local governments is a declining tax base. Home values are down and there are fewer businesses since the recession. Townships, cities, and counties get most of their money from property taxes. 

Governor Snyder says he knows the tough times are not over for municipalities.

Karry Vaughan / Flickr

With the number of digital devices like smart phones and tablets exploding, communicating with one another electronically is becoming a common part of our society.

And as many high school teachers know, thumbing on a keyboard can even go undetected if you're good.

Now, some communities are banning the practice of texting and e-mailing during public meetings.

The Detroit News has a piece on the restrictions some local governments have put in place. The piece looks at the restrictions in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Sterling Heights.

From the Detroit News:

Supporters say the issue is about transparency and integrity, not to mention common courtesy. They argue email or even text conversations could violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which requires decisions and most deliberations to be public.

"It's about maintaining the integrity of this council and futurecouncils," said Maria Schmidt, a city councilwoman in Sterling Heights, which amended its council governing rules earlier this year to ban electronic communication during meetings.

But critics of the bans say technology helps these officials do their jobsmore effectively and efficiently. They call the bans "short-sighted."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Today elected officials in Grand Rapids adopted a budget for 2012. The plan closes a $6 million budget gap in the city’s general fund.

The plan includes money for a new ‘transformation fund’ – which can only be used for one-time investments in long-term structural changes.

Grand Rapids took a couple measure last year to keep their budget out the red…they laid off around 175 employees and voters approved a city income tax hike.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state and several local governments are getting more than $2.5 million from Gun Lake Casino. It’s the first revenue-sharing payment since the casino opened in February.

More than $500,000 goes to one city, six townships, Allegan County and a public school district near the casino about 30 minutes south of Grand Rapids.

Wayland Township Supervisor Roger VanVolkinburg is not the only one who underestimated how big the first check would be.  

“Well my estimate was $200,000 years ago so it’s was a little off. (laughs) I’m sorry.”

Governor Rick Snyder has outlined a plan to withhold some state aid to local governments unless they make plans to consolidate services and make their finances more open. The governor says he wants to create new incentives for communities to save money and become more efficient.

He would revamp how the state shares tax revenues with cities and townships to reward those that come up with cost-savings. 

Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell painted his city as a destination for medical researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and young people in his State of the City address Saturday.

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